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Reading 鬼吹灯 - pulpy supernatural fiction


laurenth
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Supernatural things and superstitions are not real and therefore have no place in an advanced, socialist society, that's the gist of why it's not allowed. IIRC Chinese movies also can't feature ghosts (but Hong Kong movies still do). Not sure where that leaves Harry Potter, and what would be left of your book once the supernatural and the superstitious is taken out.

 

And an excellent write-up, thanks! One question: is this a collection of short stories or one ongoing story?

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Supernatural things and superstitions are not real and therefore have no place in an advanced, socialist society, that's the gist of why it's not allowed. IIRC Chinese movies also can't feature ghosts (but Hong Kong movies still do). Not sure where that leaves Harry Potter, and what would be left of your book once the supernatural and the superstitious is taken out.

In fact, the printed version is identical apart from the last line, which reads "and then they woke up. It was all a dream, because supernatural things and superstitions are not real and therefore have no place in an advanced, socialist society."
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I've reached chap. 17, where the title of the novel is explained. Here's my feeble attempt at a translation. Obvious caveat: I'm translating from a language I'm learning to another that isn't my mother tongue...

 

... 在墓室地里都要点上一只蜡,放在南角方位。然后开棺摸金,死者最值钱西,往往都在身上...  这时手,不能坏死者的骸,脚的从头顶摸至脚底,最后必死者留下一两宝物,在此之,如果南角的蜡了,就必把拿到手的物原放回,恭恭敬敬的磕三个,按原路退回去。

 

[Grave robbers] must always light a candle in the southeast corner of the underground mausoleum. Then, they open the coffin to loot it, as the dead often wear their most precious valuables upon them. At that moment, when operating, they cannot damage the remains of the dead, they have to act softly, starting from the top of the head down to the sole of the feet. Finally, they have to leave one or two jade items to the dead. At that moment, if the candle they have left in the south-east corner goes out, they must put back in place the items they have taken, knock their head three times on the floor to pay due respect and go back to where they came from.

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I'm tempted to highjack this thread to post some more snippets of translation of the book. I like to translate from time to time, not only for the fun but also to test myself or convince myself that I am actually reading and understanding some Chinese, as it still feels slightly unreal.

 

--

 

So, in chap. 18, as our three heroes are about to plunder a tomb, all of a sudden, they come across a shack containing decaying bodies. It turns out they are the bodies of Japanese soldiers who took refuge in this remote area of northern China at the end of the war. Then, in a corner of the shack, the tomb raiders make a discovery that leads to a discussion about how Chinese people can (?) decipher written Japanese:

 

忽然从一个用随行包里发现了一个笔本,写的都是日文,纸张发黄,上面的字迹尚可辨,不三个人中没人懂日,好在里面有不少字,只好和书汉读,只看日文中的字,不日文字和中文意思相去甚,有些意思甚至相反,(个例子,比如日文字中“留守”,和字字面的意思就背道而,是“外出”的意思)即使是这样,把词连起来,是差不多能看明白一半,再加上一些我的推,其大概的意思就是: [blatant cliffhanger]

 

"Suddenly, in a military bag, we discovered a notebook. It was all written in Japanese and, although the paper had become yellow, the handwriting was still readable. None of us three people, however, knew  that language.  And yet, as there were a lot of Chinese characters, we just had to read as if it were Chinese, relying only on the Chinese characters inside the Japanese text.

 

Although the meaning of Chinese characters used in Japanese can be very different from their meaning in Chinese, or even mean the opposite (for instance, in Japanese, the characters 留守 form a word meaning  "to be away", which is very different from the literal signification of the same characters in Chinese), by combining these words we could sort of understand half of the text and, adding some conjectures of our own, the gist was probably the following:"

 

I'm not sure about what "只好和书汉读" means.

 

The literary device of finding a dilapidated book or diary to explain part of the story and make things happen is not exactly new, but it can be used to great effect.

 

But is it true that Chinese people can "sort of understand" the gist of a (handwritten) Japanese text by looking at the 汉字?

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"只好和书汉读" is weird, and with a bit of digging I found versions that don't include that bit

http://www.guichuideng.org/jing-jue-gu-cheng-12.html

http://m.bookbao.com/views/201001/31/id_XNzQxNDA=_2.html

 

I wonder if its a botched edit or something - my first thought was a scanning error, not uncommon in online books.

 

Only comment would be 好在 - luckily, fortunately, rather than 'and yet'. 

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和 is another word for Japan, similar to 華 being China, so I'd read the expression as 'reading Japanese words/letters as Chinese'.

 

(And how do I know this: in the 1930s, the Netherlands, at the time officially known as 和蘭 although also sometimes written 荷蘭, asked the Chinese government to change the characters to 荷蘭, to get rid of the association with Japan, which China was at war with. The Chinese government was kind enough to agree and as a result the country is now 荷蘭.)

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I knew that obscure piece of knowledge would come in handy someday :-)

 

But is it true that Chinese people can "sort of understand" the gist of a (handwritten) Japanese text by looking at the 汉字?

To a point, yes, and you don't even need to be Chinese for it. I can read Japanese almost as well as Italian (which I never learned either), that is, enough to skim a wikipedia article or newspaper article and be able to tell what it's roughly about, although generally not much more than that.

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So I wasn't too far off with "read as if it were Chinese", though I wouldn't have thought of looking up the meaning  of 和 in a dictionary. I've just ckecked three dictionaries and they all mention that 和 can indeed mean Japanese.

 

Thanks for your comments Roddy and Lu.

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But is it true that Chinese people can "sort of understand" the gist of a (handwritten) Japanese text by looking at the 汉字?

my Chinese girlfriend will sometimes read Japanese wikipedia articles (for articles without a Chinese translation). She has no Japanese knowledge but says that she can get the gist of it anyway.. in fact it seems to take her less time than reading the article in English even though her English is excellent, but I guess shes skipping over all of the Japanese kana!

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And now for some dark humour in dark corridors. After having escaped a  red-haired zombie in an ancient tomb (makes me think of Scooby-Doo - the cartoon), our three heroes discover, behind a wall of that tomb, a corridor leading into a gigantic derelict underground military base (makes me think of Doom - the game) where they chant a revolutionary poem and are attacked by pig-headed, flesh-eating giant bats. Please note that I'm not making any of this stuff up! Having fought back the bats, they discover, guess what, something resembling a little kid roaming through the corridors (makes me think of Aliens - the movie). Suddenly, the kid disappears, but:

 

胖子指了指石室的一面墙壁:那小崽子,就跑这里边去了。说完用枪托刮开石壁上的苔藓和蝙蝠粪,里面露出半扇铁门,上边锈迹斑斑,用深红色油漆醒目地写着四个大字立入禁止

 

  ————————

 

胖子指着铁门上的字念了一遍又对我们说,知道这是什么意思吗?这个就是说不许站着进去,想进就躺着进,这里指定是停尸房,要不然就是焚尸炉。

 

英子听了胖子的讲解说道:啥?躺着进?原来是装死人的呀!听屯子里上岁数的人说过小鬼子整的啥焚尸炉,这铁门里八成就是焚尸炉吧。

我用手指关节在铁门上敲了两下,感觉门很厚重:胖子,你别不懂装懂,这四个字的意思大概是禁止入内。

 

 

Fatty showed one of the walls of the stone vault. "That brat ran away over there!" he said. With the butt of his gun, he scraped the moss and the bat dung off the wall. A double iron door appeared. It was all rusty and it bore prominently four big characters painted in dark red, reading: “立入禁止”.

 

Fatty pointed to the characters and read them: "Stand… enter… forbidden… Do you know what that means?" he asked me. "Is it that you can't go in standing up?  If you wanna go in, you have to lie down? They sure mean that there's a mortuary in there, or it must be a crematorium."

 

When she heard Fatty's explanation, Yingzi exclaimed: "What? Lie down to go in? So it's used to store dead people! The ancients of our village used to tell that the Japs had built crematoriums. There's probably one behind that iron door."

 

I knocked the door twice and I felt that it was very sturdy. "Fatty, don't pretend you know when you don't, I said.  These four characters probably mean 'No trespassing'. …"

 

--

 

Now, an iron door with a sign where it is plainly written "Don't go in"… What could possibly go wrong?

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In fact, the following sentences were more difficult (they describe the mechanism to open the door) and I refrained from posting my translation for fear of making a fool out of myself. But I should really swallow my pride and post more difficult stuff. I'll do that next.

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I'd like to ask a cultural question about an episode in that book. 

 

The context: a village woman has witnessed a strange phenomenon, 幽灵, 鬼魅, who knows. When she describes what she has seen to the other villagers, the (I suppose that's the shorter form of 党支部书记 "party branch secretary") cuts her and has this comment:

 

神啊鬼的,咱们现在都沐浴在改革开放的春里,浸泡来联产承包任制的阳光,光天化日,乾坤朗朗,也不

 

This sentence was totally opaque at first, I had to look up some words. When I understood, I laughed and I thought: This petty official is making a fool out of himself with his bombastic  declaration. But then, there are quite a few passages in this novel (e.g. the revolutionary poem I alluded to in a previous post) where I'm not quite sure if the author is talking tongue in cheek, if he's dead serious, if he's going ironical, etc. In such a passage, would my laughter be a kind of cultural gaffe? Or is that the normal way a 党支部书记 would talk to a villager? Or is he just mimicking what he's heard/read elsewhere to sound more impressive?

 

Oh, my attempt at a translation:

 

What ghosts and deities? At present, we are all bathed in the spring breeze of reform and opening (*), soaked by the sunlight of the contract responsibility system **, in this broad daylight, where everything is bright (?), nobody should talk nonsense!

 

* Refers to the policies started by Deng in the late 1970s.

** I found that here

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A tougher one:

 

大金牙说:“非也,在咱们眼里是那粽子操性的干尸,可是到了国外,那就成宝贝了,在北京成交价,明代之前的,一律两万,弄出国去就值十万———美子。您想啊,老外不就是喜欢看这些古灵精怪的东西吗?在洋人眼中,咱们东方古国,充满了神秘色彩,比如在纽约自然博物馆,打出个广告,今日展出神秘东方美女木乃伊,这能不轰动?这股干尸热,都是由去年楼兰小河墓葬群出土的楼兰女尸引起的。就算在咱们国内,随便找地方展览展览,都得排队参观,这就叫商机啊。”

 

Da Jinya said: That's for sure, in our eyes, that dumpling (*) is just a f*** (*) dried corpse, but once it's abroad, it becomes a treasure. In Beijing, the sale price of a pre-Ming one is 20,000, without exception. If you bring it out of the country, now it's worth 100,000, in dollars (*). What do you think, don't foreigners love to look at such weird stuff? In their eyes, our ancient Eastern countries are full of mystery. So for instance, if New York's Museum of Natural History makes an ad saying "Today, we exhibit the mummy of a beautiful woman from the mysterious Orient", it will certainly be a big hit. That fashion (*) of dried corpses all comes from the woman mummy that was excavated last year from a group of tombs in Loulan River.  Even in our country, if you could just find a place for an exhibition, everybody would have to line up to visit it, now that's what I call a business opportunity".

 

Comments and questions:

* In the Chinese tomb raider jargon 粽子,  is not a sort of dumpling but this:

盗墓者中流传的暗语,就像山里的土匪之间谈话也不能直接说自己杀人放火,都有一套黑话切口,例如「粽子」指墓里的尸体保存的比较完好,没有腐烂的古尸。

My attempt at a translation: The jargon that tomb raiders use to communicate is like that used between mountain bandits: they just can't tell plainly they will "murder" or "arson". They all have a series of slang or jargon words; for instance "dumpling" means a relatively well-preserved mummy in a tomb, a corpse that has not decayed.

If found the meaning of 切口  here: http://cidian.911cha.com/MjRkOXc=.html

拼音 qiē kǒu 

基本解释指旧时帮会组织或行业所使用的暗语:他说的满嘴是切口,我一点也听不懂。

 

* I'm not sure at all what 操性 means.

But I see that another online version says "在咱们眼里是粽子的干尸", which is a bit easier.

* 美子?

* Can 热 mean "fashion"?

* I'm not sure how the last sentence is logically connected to the rest. Does "随便" form an expression with "就算"?

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On the bombastic village secretary - I think the author is poking fun at that style of speech. There's a brilliant comedy sketch about this, but I can't find it, I'll start a new topic and someone will come up with it...

 

非也 - it might depend on what was said before, but this should be something like 'not so, not so'

那粽子操性的干尸 - yeah, not sure about this. From your explanation 粽子 should be a 'good' corpse, whereas he seems to be saying "it's not much to us, but take it overseas..."

 美子 - from context it'll be slang for 美元. 

热 - yes, or fever or something like trend. Similar to how we might say in English that something is hot. 

就算..随便 - I don't know if it's fixed, but the idea is Even if you just found some place in China and...

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Thanks for the hints Roddy!

 

非也 - Indeed I've just noticed that the translation suggested by Pleco's ABC dictionary is "This is not so". Baike.com says "非也即“不是”或“不对”的意思,多用于强调或口头禅。"  I can't remember where or why I took the idea of "That's for sure", but it was obviously wrong.

 

那粽子操性的干尸 -  I've checked the Android app version, and the sentence is identical. I'll leave it like that for the moment, I think I understand the general meaning of the sentence, now.

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